Anyone who watches Never Surrender--a movie that boasts "The world's top MMA fighters in their first feature film!"--and expects it to be anything other than low-grade schlock is either an idiot, completely naïve, or simply hasn't watched enough movies to recognize crap for what it is. That said, it should come as no surprise that Never Surrender is in fact a craptacular mess. This is, in case you weren't paying attention, a movie that lays claim to being the first feature film of the world's top MMA fighters, and none of them, mind you, are classically trained actors. Sure, these guys can fight--and fight well, I might add--but when it comes to acting...well...let's just say that they are all good fighters.
Hector Echavarria, himself a former world class Mixed Martial Arts fighter, stars as Diego Carter, himself a world class Mixed Martial Arts fighter. Some of you may know Echavarria as the star of such abysmal films as Confessions of a Pit Fighter, and for those of you that thrilled to his acting skills, which combined all the emotional dexterity of a piece of wood and all the personality complexity of a slab of concrete, will be happy to know that Echavarria also lends his considerable talents as a director, producer and writer to Never Surrender. One might think of Echavarria as the Orson Welles of MMA fighters turned filmmakers, but the comparison is only applicable in the number of hats worn, and certainly not in the amount of talent displayed.
Using his remarkable wood-meets-concrete style of acting, mixed with his put-the-camera-there style of directing, and his I-don't-need-a-good-script-because-I-can-fight writing, Echavarria brings to life the story of Diego Carter, who after winning his latest championship MMA fight, is lured into an underground cage fight by the sexy Sandra (Silvia Koys), whose burning sexuality draws Diego in like a moth to a flame, or a fly to shit, or a maggot to a rotting corpse. It turns out that Sandra works for Seifer (Patrick Kilpatrick) a sadistic Russian mobster who runs an illegal fight competition that rewards it's victors with tons of money, and hot sex with beautiful women. But there's a twist. Every fighter has his "consort"--which is a nice way of saying a sexy slut he gets to hump--but if a fighter loses his match, the guy who beat him gets to screw his consort. So, in case some of you aren't following this...win the fight and you get a bunch of money, and you get to fuck the girlfriend of the guy whose ass you just beat. Of course, Diego wins his first fight, he chooses Sandra as his consort, and is then quickly swept up in Seifer's sleazy world of no-holds-barred fights followed by sub par soft core sex with chicks who all look like their titties have been augmented.
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that Diego soon begins to realize that a life of beating the crap out of hulking brutes on steroids and then banging hot chicks with firm breasts isn't all its cracked up to be. Realizing he has real feelings for Sandra, Diego decides he wants out of the fight game, but Seifer, who is so sadistic he does things like beat women to death with his bare hands for not screwing his fighters, has other plans. And as if this ridiculous crap wasn't ridiculous enough, the story just spirals even further down into a quagmire of implausible and poorly executed bullshit that makes you realize in hindsight that the early films of Jean Claude Van Damme might not have been so bad after all.
In addition to Echavarria, Never Surrender offers performances by fighters Georges "Rush" St-Pierre, Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, Anderson "The Spider" Silva, BJ "The Prodigy" Penn and Heath "The Texas Crazy Horse" Herring. For the record, I'd gladly watch any of these guys fight in a ring or a cage, but watching them act is watching them in a fight they can't seem to win. But it's not really the fault of Rush, Rampage, The Spider, The Prodigy or The Texas Crazy Horse that their performances range from wow-you-are-pretty-bad to I-can-tell-you're-trying-but-it's-no-use, because worse actors than this have been made competent in other films. The problem here is that none of these distinguished gentlemen are working with a script that is worthy of being used as toilet paper to wipe the ass of an incontinent rhino, in a film that is being directed by someone who seems to be completely blind to the fact that his talent lies primarily in his kicking abilities. In other words, it's no surprise these guys are, at best, pretty bad, because they're in a film that is really terrible.
Perhaps the best thing that can be said about Never Surrender is that there is a decent helping of nudity and poorly executed sex scenes. Granted, the scenes are not really erotic, but they are a distraction from the rest of the movie. Of course, the movie earns special points for montages cut to bad music. I lost count after the first three 1980s style montages, which include the obligatory training sequence, and one that intercuts fight sequences with sex scenes, clearly giving the target audience what it wants--sex and violence rapidly cut to a generic sounding hard rock song that sounded hopelessly dated before it was even recorded.
Never Surrender is not the worst movie you will ever see, which is probably the most positive thing that can be said about this stinker (unless, of course, you mention all the nudity, which is good for a cheap thrill). At the same time, the movie is so bad that it only warrants a viewing if it appears on cable (uncut, of course), at a time when there's nothing else on, you have nothing else to do, you have insomnia and have run out of sleeping pills. Perhaps, under these circumstances, Never Surrender might be worth watching. But then again, as long as you have something to read or laundry to be washed, there will always be better ways to spend your time.
Never Surrender is presented in 1.78:1 widescreen. The picture quality is good for the most part, and it would seem clear that the most competent person on the production was the director of photography. The image transfer is good, with a clear picture free of noticeable grain or defects.
Never Surrender is presented English in 5.1 Dolby Digital, with optional subtitles in English and Spanish. The sound levels are decent, but parts of the film are clearly dubbed for one reason or another, which is apparent both visually and within the sound mix itself. Of course, the sound mix is still decent enough to make out all the terrible dialog, and it decent enough to make the bad music audible. If there was ever a movie that begged for a bad sound mix with inaudible levels, it would be this one. Unfortunately, you can hear the whole damn thing.
Two brief featurettes about the making of the movie (17 min.) and how the fight sequences are put together (12 min.) are enough to almost make you think this movie had a chance of not sucking completely. There is also a music video (skipped it), and trailers, which of course should not be considered bonus materials, but marketing.
If you like MMA fighting and nudity, this film has both. Sadly, neither is enough to warrant recommending this garbage. Instead, you should watch a real MMA fight, followed by a soft core porn, both of which will deliver a better quality of what it is you seek.
David Walker is the creator of BadAzz MoFo, a nationally published film critic, and the Writer/Director of Black Santa's Revenge with Ken Foree now on DVD [Buy it now]